“The Thing with Feathers”
Imagine being in possession of something that in one instance can make the world feel like a paradise of unparalleled beauty and wonder, but simultaneously has the potential to create a noxious fog of strife and darkness. Imagine it. A crushing paradox, yes? It is often said that the mind can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. For years I have wrestled with the cruel irony of this duality. Having studied Psychology and subsequently worked in the field, my own personal experience has become acutely crystallised in my view of life. Through this piece I can only hope to convey the soft fragility of “The Thing with Feathers” to you, the reader.
The genesis of mental health issues is very often couched in the abstract, amid a messy mix of biology, circumstance, and damned luck. For me, the onset of the immovable tide came in the post-adolescent period of university life. Having accepted a place in a prestigious law school, I proceeded to be enveloped by all that life had to offer for a young man with delusions of immortality and a taste for sweet excess. I can remember it vividly. Having dropped out of college, I sat in a small room with the black dog as my sole acquaintance. His eyes shone a deep red throughout the room, creating maniacal dancing figures along the walls. I felt it in every fibre of my being for the first time: depression. What was this feeling? I couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t go away. Had I been cursed? I felt the poison in my blood, as it ran along the edges of my mind, seeping inwards.
Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. Having spent years wrestling with the darkness, I set off on a new adventure. I sailed into a new life that I believed would bring fulfilment and peace. This is when I found Psychology. University life in Galway was a strange time. I was living in a vibrant, multi-cultural city with a thriving student population. But paranoia became my new adversary, waiting around every corner for an opportunity to cut and maim. Every lecture I attended: panic. Every tutorial I sat in: fear. Every walk through a busy concourse: anger and aggression. It was at this time that I sank into the world of sedatives. They freed me of my crippling fear of the unknown, saved me from the unheard whispers and menacing glances. But they robbed me of who I am as a person. I have found that there is nothing more frightening than not knowing who you are as a person. Strip away the anti-depressants, the litany of anti-psychotics and the soft glow of sedatives and what’s left? Needless to say, I didn’t stay in Galway and sought the sanctuary of family and close friends.
Having spent a number of years working in Dublin, I am now ready for a new life. A new adventure. With the support of my family and friends, as well as help from an able professional, I am in a strong position where the world seems to be full of opportunity. Mental health is still very much the subject of misunderstanding and stigma. Having been through ecstatic highs and crushing lows for over a decade, I can now say that I am ready for everything that life has to offer. At once I could feel the spectre hovering above me, licking and smacking its lips at its prey below. He is now vanquished. Instead of cowering with fear in the face of the black dog, I now stare him down with authority and confidence.
The messy duality of the mind is something that we all have to deal with at some stage in our lives. For me, it has been a long road to contentment. I can only hope that those who feel the sting seek help and reach out to those who care. I now feel blessed, as instead of the burning flames of hell I can only see the glow of happiness. Hold onto it, “The Thing with Feathers”. For it is Hope.
By Jason Power